Australia is moving away from a two party system: that was the key message of the weekend’s New South Wales election. A third force is rising to challenge Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition, the Anybody-But-Labor-and-the-Coalition grouping is now supported by almost a third of the electorate.

In polling for the lower house this third force received 23.9% of the votes and really showed its strength in the upper house election by reaching 32.7%. No wonder the operatives of the major parties spend so much time trying to make preference deals with the minnows. More than ever before it is the number two on the ballot paper that determines which of Labor or Coalition becomes the government.

These days Labor gets a big start in that department because of the emergence of the Greens as the biggest contributor to the third party vote. On Saturday the Greens gained 8.8% in the lower house (up half a percentage point on their 2003 showing) and 8.1% in the upper house which, despite being down half a point, was enough to increase their numbers in the 42 seat Legislative Council from three to four. The way things look at this stage of counting, Labor will have 18 seats meaning that Green support will give the government of Morris Iemma an upper house majority.

If the Greens are winners, the Democrats are losers. Despite the substantial overall support for third parties, the Democrats have crashed out of the NSW Parliament after gaining fewer votes than the Reverend Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats and the Shooters Party. This failure to win an upper house seat, following on a similar disappointing result last year in South Australia, does not augur well for the party still being in the Senate following this year’s Federal election. Senator Natasha Stott Despoja might not be a rat but she is clearly leaving a sinking party.

John Howard on Saturday night at least went to his Party’s party where the defeated Peter Debnam was pretending that the Liberal failure to win a seat from Labor was somehow still a victory. Whether the PM was right in his judgment that the state Liberal loss was all its own work and nothing to do with him will be tested soon enough. Labor certainly campaigned by linking Mr Debnam to the Federal industrial relations laws and clearly thinks the issue will be a federal winner later this year.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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